Tuesday, July 3, 2018

A Vision and Four Cornerstones

At the start of this term, Council adopted a Strategic Plan that contains the “Four Cornerstones” to support the vision of Abbotsford as the “Hub of the Fraser Valley”. The principles relating to each of the cornerstones – Vibrant Economy, Complete Community, Fiscal Discipline, and Organizational Alignment – have guided city staff and this Council in their planning and decision-making.

Bringing that vision to fruition has challenges, not least of which are the financial constraints that any growing city will be confronted with. To that end, this Council and city staff have engaged in an ambitious program of reviewing and updating nine Master Plans, completing four Neighbourhood Plans, and completing seven ‘Special Studies’, all stemming from unprecedented community engagement. 

All nine Master Plans have been adopted, along with one Neighbourhood Plan (the UFV Neighbourhood Plan). The remaining agenda will come before the next Council in 2019. Each has unique foci in terms of how the City budgets and directs staff, and they don’t always advance at the same rate. The next Council’s challenge will be how it advances each Plan within the parameters of both time and available financial resources, and without imposing a greater tax burden on our property tax payers.

Each of the master plans include 25-year capital programs that are designed to be phaseable, affordable, resilient, sustainable, incremental, flexible, & grantable. While the individual capital projects have large dollar figures attached, they are all spread out over the 25-year term. Council’s task has in many ways become easier and the chances for success in achieving our vision for our city, more achievable.

While unprecedented community engagement was obtained, the challenge ahead will be to execute the plans as intended in the face of ‘push back’ which will undoubtedly materialize. Decisiveness from Council in its decision-making will be paramount, if the vision of Plan200k is to be realized.


Through the hiring of a full-time Director of Homelessness & Housing, a number of significant milestones have been reached. The City has applied the $400K federal grant to a Homelessness Initiative, which is comprised of several components. Several of note are:

  • Abbotsford Homelessness Strategy Roadmap: a Collaborative Roadmap for the Prevention of and Responsiveness to Homelessness in Abbotsford
  • Supportive Housing at Hearthstone
  • Riverside Shelter: a temporary, low-barrier shelter for homeless
  • Rental Connect: linking landlords with the ‘hard-to-house’
  • ACT: Assertive Community Treatment Teams under Fraser Health, who work directly with the homeless
  • Affordable Housing Strategy
  • Funding for 80, low-cost modular housing units

These are only a few of the initiatives; the next Council will need to continue its development, and use it to leverage continued support from senior levels of government. A key piece in providing support for the homeless is the establishment of a "Drop-In Hub"; a place for individuals to socialize, to receive the services they require, to access a shower, and to wash their clothes. The City is within months of establishing such a "Hub". This is a key component of providing "wrap-around" services to the homeless of Abbotsford.


In 2019, the Abbotsford-Mission Transit station will be completed, thereby significantly increasing capacity of our transit system. The new site on Highway 11 will greatly increase the system’s capacity to add to the fleet, thanks to a federal grant of $28m. This will open the door to improving our transit system, both in terms of scope and reliability of service for the residents of Abbotsford. The revised routing will need to reflect the future residential development as articulated in our Official Community Plan, 2016. More buses will translate into more frequent and more reliable bus service for our community. Initially, the focus needs to be on along the "spine", which runs from High Street to UFV, along South Fraser Way. The addition of service to the airport must also be advanced, especially once the Mt. Lehman corridor from Highway 1 to the airport is complete.


Council has worked patiently with both senior levels of government and two railroad companies to arrive at an agreeable plan for the long-awaited Vye Road Overpass. With funding in place, only railroad agreement on details has kept the project from moving ahead, however, we have now finally reached that point and construction should commence within the next six months. This project includes construction of four lanes to the Sumas border, including a dedicated ‘Nexus’ lane.

Other capital projects of note are: 1) the Marshall Road Connector, which will link 16th Ave with Marshall Road. It should reach completion by early 2019; 2) Council has approved a three-stage improvement to Fraser Highway, which will greatly improve the flow of traffic along that corridor; 3) work will begin shortly on four-laning Mt. Lehman from Fraser Highway to the airport. With respect to Highway #1, the City has lobbied hard, and continues to join voices with municipalities west of us in urging the provincial government to widen the highway to Whatcom Road, if not to Chilliwack. This issue is not only an Abbotsford one, but a regional issue as well.

3-D Rendering Video of Vye Road Overpass

Water Supply:

Eight years ago, the Council of the day was led to believe that an adequate supply of water for our community was nearing an end. A proposal to embark on a major capital project that would have included a significant long-term debt was put to the residents in a referendum. It failed, and as one of those Council members, I am pleased that it did, even though I strongly endorsed it at the time. Since then, a successful water conservation strategy, coupled with radio-read meters has resulted in greatly reduced water usage. In addition, part of the problem was an inadequate distribution system, which has been addressed.

We are now, however, at that point where we do need to seriously consider another water source. Thanks to the benefit of time and more research, staff have identified “collector wells” along the south shore of the Fraser River as the most viable and most cost-efficient source. In fact, initial estimates put this system at a much lower cost than the Stave Lake option, and this system will allow for incremental addition of infrastructure, which will allow the city to accumulate necessary reserves to finance this project without incurring huge debt. It is highly likely that some level of senior government grants will be available.

Industrial Land:

In 2005, the ALC granted Abbotsford permission to exclude approximately 200 hectares from agricultural land for industrial use. The uptake was very slow, but within the last few years, a sudden surge in industrial development has taken place. As of May 2018, approximately 22 hectares of useable industrial land remains. The recent decision by the ALC to deny the city’s request for additional exclusions has been a disappointment and a concern. A Council decision directs our mayor and city manager to open dialogue with the Minister of Agriculture and the Chair and CEO of the Agricultural Land Commission.

If Abbotsford’s growth expectations materialize (population increase of 60,000 within the next 10 – 20 years), and if a “Vibrant Economy” is to be realized, then the provision of employment lands will be critical. Presently, 65% of Abbotsford residents live and work in Abbotsford, a rate that is higher than all our neighbouring municipalities, including Langley and Surrey. Our young families want to live, work, and play in Abbotsford, and that is something that Council must be mindful of and work hard to achieve.

For more detail on this topic, see: Industrial Land Supply Analysis

Abbotsford Centre:

Normally, I would not identify this as one of the major topics, but because of the history surrounding Plan ‘A’ and the Entertainment Centre, I feel some comment is required. I’ve recently written a blog on this topic. Please refer to it for my thoughts: The White Elephant That Isn’t

Fiscal Discipline:

Over the time that I’ve been on Council, it has been clear that senior levels of government provide financial assistance to capital projects only on condition that local government also contribute – usually one-third. The fact that certain projects are outside our area of responsibility (housing, highway infrastructure), has not mattered. The interchanges, airport improvements, river diking, and housing for homeless would not have occurred had the City not contributed a third of the costs. At the same time, funding from senior levels of government would not have materialized without consistent lobbying by senior staff and the Mayor’s office. The new Transit Centre is only possible because Mayor Braun and our City Manager travelled to Ottawa and were able to convince the Minister of our need, and as a result, the $28m grant was secured through the office of MP Jati Sidhu. Such lobbying must continue for our City to fund important capital projects, but we must also continue to make the case clear where we see that property taxpayers have no obligation to finance certain capital projects (i.e. – diking).

Most recent data available

Over the last seven years, the City’s Reserves have grown significantly. This has not occurred by accident, but by careful financial planning and stewardship. A healthy Reserve will enable the City to afford unexpected upgrades and new capital projects without incurring debt. Having competent staff in place is certainly key, however, having fiscally-responsible Council members in place is no less important. The next Council will need to provide ongoing support for the foundational work that has brought us to this point, and to exercise prudence and good judgement in prioritizing large capital projects. The newly-adopted Master Plans prioritize projects based on community input, and include 25-year financial plans to assist in financing the plans.

Change, today, is occurring at an increasingly rapid rate, and for local government to continue to be responsive to the needs of residents and to be as financially efficient and effective as possible will be a challenge. The next Council will need to have the ability to recognize and embrace technology that will make Abbotsford a “Smarter City”. Technology applied to city services can make them more efficient, both in time and in cost. Through “Abbotsforward” we learned how engaged our public can and will be, given the opportunity, and public engagement is one area where technology can be applied to be even more successful in soliciting the public’s involvement in local government.

Legalization of Retail Cannabis

Of all the challenges the next Council will face, this issue may be the most complex. While medical marijuana has been legally available for awhile, the legalization of retail marijuana presents a whole new list of hurdles to navigate. At this point, local governments only know that it is imminent, but do not yet fully know what tools they will be provided with by senior levels of government to implement, regulate, and enforce around the distribution and consumption of retail marijuana. What we do know at this point is that according to a government announcement, only one government-licensed retail outlet will be operating on October 17th - in Kamloops.

A variety of sources, including the Police Chiefs of BC and the Federation of Canadian Municipalities are suggesting, through their own analyses, that the burden on local governments, both in terms of financial and human resources, will be significant. Will property taxpayers be left with that bill, or will federal and provincial dollars be allocated for it? At the recent UBCM, a resolution was adopted to petition the government for 40% of the expected tax revenue.

Through a survey completed by more than 5000 residents, the City has received community input, and this fall staff will be presenting a report, for Council to consider. Regardless of the eventual direction our City will go, it will be critical to proceed cautiously to avoid unintended consequences. We will only have one chance to "get it right"; errors will be difficult, if not impossible, to undo.


I heard a speaker say that the two most important words for local government officials are, “What’s Next?” While some may ask that question, there is no doubt in my mind as to what is next. We can’t rest on what we’ve achieved to this point. I look forward to the opportunity to serve this city for another term, should I be re-elected.

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